Groundhog Day: Historical Holiday or a Pointless Event?

Understanding the context of this bizarre celebration through its long past.

With January now concluding, and February coming soon, so does the yearly Groundhog Day holiday. However, the idea that a groundhog predicting the weather can seem bizarre, but perhaps the answer to this event can be found in its 134-year history.

As stated, Groundhog Day has been a holiday in America for over a century, the first held in 1887 in Punxsutawney. But interestingly, the history of the practice goes back even further. The furthest history tells of the practice comes from the Christian holiday known as Candlemas Day, stated by the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

The celebration started in Christianity as the day, (Feb. 2) when Christians would take their candles to the church to have them blessed,” according to the official club. “This, they felt, would bring blessings to their household for the remaining winter.”

It was through this practice that many Europeans felt assured they would be able to survive the grueling winter to come. But once this practice was in the hands of Germany, was when an animal became involved. Instead of a groundhog, it was a hedgehog, and similarly, it too would check for its shadow on Candlemas Day. But when these Germans eventually settled into the new United States, practices changed. 

“As German settlers came to what is now the United States, so too came their traditions and folklore. With the absence of hedgehogs in the United States, a similar hibernating animal was chosen (the groundhog),” according to the official club.

Though as times changed, and the winter no longer became the threat it was decades ago, so changed the reasoning to celebrate the holiday. As stated, the first Groundhog Day was recorded in 1887, and since then it’s been an excuse for a celebration in Pennsylvania. With over a thousand visitors flocking in to see Phil himself and celebrate with the locals. This all changed, however, with the successful 1993 comedy movie Groundhog Day, and across the nation, people flocked towards Punxsutawney. 

“The movie blew everything up. We went from having a few thousand to 10,000 the next year, and it’s only gotten bigger,” said John Griffiths, a handler for Phil. 

Moving further into the town and home of Punxsutawney Phil, over the century of this tradition, the group known as the Inner Circle are the ones who care for the groundhog. Consisting of only men, wearing suits and top hats, they manage and prepare the festivities in Punxsutawney every year. They also manage the official club for the event, and each member state claims on the true power behind Phil, including Phil himself. 

Phil has been predicting the weather for over 120 years. He is accurate 100% of the time,” according to the Inner Circle. “…meteorologists are correct about 70% of the time. Phil is always right.”

Despite whether these claims are true or not, it does little for the general energy of the holiday, where residents and Pennsylvania and all over enjoy their selves an excuse for a celebration. But how about back here in Kentucky? With no resident magic groundhog, does the opinion on the holiday change? Well, our members of Dunbar give their take on the experience.

“Groundhog day, well I haven’t really heard about it much, except in school, “ senior Christian Sanchez said. “I don’t really remember much about it either because I didn’t really think it was all that important.”

Of course, it isn’t much of a shock to understand how a holiday that is celebrated in a few selected places wouldn’t resonate with those not affected by it. But perhaps this year may be different. With the COVID-19 pandemic is at large, and this being (hopefully) the first Groundhog Day under COVID-19, could there be a chance those at home will stand-by to see what the groundhog has to say?

“I would think (people would watch it), just because we’re home and there’s less stuff to do,” social studies teacher Paula Aseltyne said.